published Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

Judges sought to testify


by Monica Mercer

Two Hamilton County General Sessions judges must testify in court to answer allegations that officers with the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency routinely "judge shop" their cases to get the most favorable outcome against people who break the agency's laws.

The subpoenas filed in court Tuesday by attorney Jerry Summers request the presence of General Sessions Judges Bob Moon and David Bales at a hearing scheduled for Jan. 7 in Hamilton County Criminal Court.

A judge from a different county will preside over the case because all other Criminal Court judges have recused themselves.

The documents were part of 20 subpoenas filed Tuesday and include subpoenas for Chattanooga Times Free Press reporters Monica Mercer and Adam Crisp, seeking notes in the ongoing coverage of the matter.

The move is part of Mr. Summers' battle to get charges dismissed against his client Gary Wayne McCullough that involve misdemeanor offenses of laws enforced by the TWRA.

Mr. Summers first alleged in August that the TWRA routinely sends its cases to Judge Moon and Judge Bales, despite a computerized case assignment system that is supposed to assign all General Sessions Court cases randomly to one of five judges.

Court documents allege that Judge Moon and Judge Bales have heard a disproportionate number of TWRA cases over the years.

Mr. Summers has said many times that "judge shopping" in General Sessions Court remains a problem and that defendants are denied due process because of the practice.

"Judge shopping" is prohibited under ethics rules of the Tennessee Supreme Court.

Judge Moon and Judge Bales could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but both have previously denied the allegations.

Judge Moon, an avid hunter, recently told the Times Free Press that "it is not unusual" to have specific judges hear specific cases based on their expertise of certain subjects. The TWRA enforces Tennessee hunting laws, among others.

Judge Moon also said that "all law enforcement officers, including (those working for the) TWRA, have discretion to assign cases to certain judges when defendants are only given citations."

Another subpoena issued Tuesday seeks to discredit both statements made by Judge Moon.

Mr. Summers has subpoenaed General Sessions Chief Administrative Assistant Pamela Melton to provide court docket schedules from 2004 to 2009 as proof that other types of citations, such as those involving traffic violations, do not routinely get sent to particular judges.

Ms. Melton also is requested to provide proof that there was any judicial agreement authorizing General Sessions judges to deviate from random case assignment procedures because of expertise in a particular area of law.

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